Pretoria has explained that the reason why it its pulling the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) contingent out of the United Nations-African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) is because it is increasingly concerned about the safety of the men.

The SANDF was increasingly concerned for the safety of their members in the volatile Darfur region in western Sudan where last year an SANDF soldier died and another was injured when they were ambushed by rebels.

President Jacob Zuma ordered that the SANDF withdraw from the area by April. The South African soldiers are part of a 17,000-member joint AU-UN hybrid peacekeeping mission in the area.

Pretoria said Thursday that the mission’s efforts were frustrated by Khartoum and the UN was not able intervene.

Ready to enforce peace but frustrated by government — that is why South Africa has pulled out the more than 800 soldiers deployed in the difficult and volatile region, South Africa says.

According to Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, the conditions in Dafur were deteriorating, making it difficult to maintain peace.

“We have a platoon ambushed not only once. When we wanted to move in and provide them with materials we had problems with government clearing those things for the platoons in Darfur. We had moments with challenges with clearance for medication for our people; even with rotation (of troops) we again had challenges with clearances.”

The UN estimates that 300,000 people have been killed in the fighting in Darfur since 2003 and more than two million people have been displaced.

Mapisa-Nqakula said the SANDF recommended to the Commander-in-Chief, President Jacob Zuma, that the soldiers be withdrawn. She said President Zuma did try to raise South Africa’s concerns with Sudan but to no avail.

She believes the withdrawal will not trigger a diplomatic row. “It should not actually. When problems developed, it was the responsibility of the UN to intervene so there is not a diplomatic crisis. We are a sovereign state, we can agree to deployment and withdraw.”

The withdrawal comes as relations between the UN and the Sudanese government are tense. Khartoum wants the peacekeeping mission to pull out.

South Africa first deployed staff officers and observers to dafur in 2004 and later increased its contingent when UNAMID was established.

Mapisa-Nqakula said the decision to pull out the SANDF contingent was communicated to both the AU and UN.

“We just feel it is about time our people are back in the country; there are other areas where the SANDF has been requested to come. We want to focus our energy and resources where we are needed.”

The SANDF’s pull-out comes amid reports of intense fighting in the Jebel Marra area of Dafur. As many as 85 000 civilians, mostly women and children, have fled the fighting to escape to North Darfur.

Foreign new agency reports have quoted a UN official as saying that Khartoum has denied the UNAMID forces access to the area.

Source: SABC